The last thing that Ásgeir expected was success. The 24-year-old, whose full name is Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson, has been dubbed Iceland’s biggest export since Bjork and is a globally touring artist. Yet only a few years ago, Ásgeir was recording music alone in his bedroom. Only instead of being a bedroom recording artist in a music mecca of New York or London, Ásgeir lived quietly in his hometown of Laugarbakki, which has a population of 48 people.
‘I made music in my bedroom and I was really a loner in that way. I never played a show before the first album. I was just recording music on my own,’ Ásgeir said.
His first album, Dýrð í dauðaþögn, (no idea how to say that) was released on a small Icelandic label, Sena, and was a hit across Scandinavia, particularly in his native Iceland. The album became the best-selling debut album in Icelandic history, with roughly one in ten people in Iceland owning the record (which roughly translates to 33,000 copies).
Soon after, the international labels came calling, asking to re-release the album to global audiences, throwing Ásgeir out of his rustic Icelandic world and onto bustling international stages. For Ásgeir himself, this took some getting used to.
‘It was very strange in the beginning. I never expected to be a success, especially being a front man touring the world singing. I never expected to be doing that,’ Ásgeir said, 'it was quite overwhelming. I’m a shy person and I’m pretty introverted. Through the years and through the experiences though I think I’ve grown a bit. I’m not as shy and I’m not as introverted as I used to be.’
When Ásgeir signed with the British label, One Little Indian Records, a key part of the plan to re-release his debut record was translating the album into English. With the new title In the Silence, the decision was made to connect with international audiences, a decision which Ásgeir firmly believes was a positive one.
However, Icelandic is a complicated and intricate language, especially when compared to the relatively simple English. Working with translator and lyricist John Grant, Ásgeir closely worked to ensure that meaning and context stayed was consistent between the two versions of the record.
‘The meaning got through quite well. Obviously, there are words and sentences that are difficult to describe in English,’ Ásgeir said, ‘the Icelandic title of the first album literally means ‘Glory in Bad Silence’ – for me, it’s really related to death, but it feels different when you say it in English.’
For many Western artists, language is mostly an afterthought within music; writing music in English is the most effective and accessible device. However, Ásgeir approaches language within his music like few artists in the contemporary scene.
When recording his upcoming second record Afterglow, Ásgeir gave considerable thought about the language used throughout. Whilst international audiences would clearly respond to English, Ásgeir acknowledged that his fellow Icelandic people prefer music in their own native language. He eventually opted for English, although an Icelandic release could be a future possibility.
‘I think if I have the time, I really want to release an Icelandic version of some of the songs on Afterglow. I made so many songs for this record, that we always had to record them twice, once for each language. It just got too much for me,’ Ásgeir said.
Nevertheless, Ásgeir plans to keep a bilingual approach for future projects.
‘I think I will probably be using both languages in the future. I don’t know if I will be doing translations of the same album, but I will look to include both of them somehow.’
With his upcoming second album, Afterglow, Ásgeir has taken on a decidedly electronic departure from his previous folk-based material. For the most part, such a move was an effort to keep himself interested.
‘It didn’t feel exciting to write folk songs anymore. I didn’t feel like that was what I was supposed to do. I needed to expand to keep it exciting for me.’
With that, Ásgeir acknowledged that the lead-up to his first and second album couldn’t be any more different, citing pressure as the main factor.
‘I felt a lot of pressure. I don’t know if it was a mixture of many things. It just took time, I needed to take a break after touring, I went back home to ground myself a bit. I wanted to be in a quiet place to think, and it took some time to get back into writing.’
For Ásgeir, writing music was a natural part of who he was from an early age. For Afterglow, Ásgeir wanted to return to the reason he started making music in the first place.
‘I’m not completed if I’m not able to write songs, if I’m not able to release music. I feel like I always need that in my life. I guess it’s a therapy in a way. It’s a part of me that I need in my life. I always think about music in a natural way. I never have a pre-thought out idea.’
With that, music for Ásgeir is very much a family affair and reflective of his upbringing in Iceland. His father, Einar Georg Einarsson, is an established Icelandic poet and collaborates with Ásgeir on his lyrics. His mother introduced Ásgeir to music through her role as the organist in the local church.
‘I really liked to go to church when she was playing. It helped in getting interested in music and keep on playing.’
Nevertheless, Ásgeir credits his oldest brother, Thorsteinn, as his biggest musical influence, even though he is 12 years Ásgeir’s senior and moved away when Ásgeir was 5 years old.
‘I always looked up to him, I wanted to play guitar cause of how well he played the guitar, I wanted to sing cause he sang, and he wrote songs so I wanted to write songs.’
Furthermore, Ásgeir’s live band features Thorsteinn as well as his other brothers Julius Robertsson and Hogni, all of whom helped Ásgeir in the making of Afterglow and In The Silence.
‘I wouldn’t say I have much experience with anyone else. I used to be in some bands, but never any collaborations that I could compare to it.’
Ásgeir equally acknowledged how Iceland shaped his musical identity and career.
‘Iceland will always be a part of me. It’s difficult to say exactly why or how Icelandic culture plays a role in my music other than it’s a part of who I am and so it must come out in my music naturally.’
For most professional Icelandic musicians, leaving the comforts of home to take on bigger stages is viewed as the ultimate career goal.
‘I think most bands when they are starting out, they want to tour the world and go outside of Iceland,’ Ásgeir said.
With such a small population, Icelandic artists seem to have a relatively powerful presence amongst the international music scene. With artists such as Bjork, Of Monsters and Men, and Sigur Rós conquering music audiences worldwide, Ásgeir reflected on his country’s musical production.
‘There are so many Icelandic artists and bands that come out here into the world. It’s kind of ridiculous. We’re only 300,000 and just having like 5 or 10 bands that are professional acts playing their music globally, is crazy.’
Nevertheless, for Ásgeir, touring is more of a required reality.
‘There are also a lot of bands that just stay in Iceland. It’s hard to be a professional musician in Iceland though; the population is not that big, and there are not too many venues you can play at, even in Reykjavik, the capital city.’
‘Honestly, touring is not my favourite thing. I really like being home and just having everything I need where I want it to be. Having that comfort. So touring is kind of the exact opposite of that. We always have people who are taking care of us, and making it as enjoyable as it can be. And it’s a privilege; I don’t want to be complaining. It’s just not my favourite thing to do.’
As we wrap up our chat, Ásgeir ended in a more positive light that he is looking forward to playing in Australia again for this year Splendour in the Grass. In fact, in years of touring, his favourite musical moment happened on our very shores playing at the Sydney Opera House.
‘I found that really special, I really enjoyed that. The shows were good and the venue was magnificent. It’s like an art piece to stand back and look at it. That memory really stands out from the three years of touring. I'm looking forward to more.’
Ásgeir's new album, Afterglow, is out May 5
Ásgeir's Upcoming Australian Tour
Friday 21 July | Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW
Monday 24 July | Forum Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Tuesday 25 July | Astor Theatre, Perth, WA
Friday 21 July - Sunday 23 July | Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay, NSW
Alex Capper, once affectionally called by Ross & John of 3AW as the '7 foot fucker', loves the Essendon Football Club, stalking reddit and dabbing. He thinks he can speak French, but he can't.